shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


tell me a story

Denis Dutton reviews The Seven Basic Plots in today's WaPo, making it unnecessary to ever actually read this book (unless you just want to):

Booker has not discovered archetypes, hard-wired blueprints, for story plots, though he has identified the deep themes that fascinate us in fictions. Here's an analogy: Survey the architectural layout of most people's homes and you will find persistent patterns in the variety. Bedrooms are separated from kitchens. Kitchens are close to dining rooms. Front doors do not open onto children's bedrooms or bathrooms.

Are these patterns Jungian room-plan archetypes? Hardly. Life calls for logical separations of rooms where families can sleep, cook, store shoes, bathe and watch TV. Room patterns follow not from mental imprints, but from the functions of the rooms themselves, which in turn follow from our ordinary living habits.

So it is with stories. The basic situations of fiction are a product of fundamental, hard-wired interests human beings have in love, death, adventure, family, justice and adversity. These values counted as much in the Pleistocene era as today, which is why evolutionary psychologists study them intensively. Our fictions are populated with character-types relevant to these themes: beautiful young women, handsome strong men, courageous leaders, children needing protection, wise old people. Add to this threats and obstacles to the fulfillment of love and fortune, including both bad luck and villains, and you have the makings of literature. Story plots are not unconscious archetypes, but follow, as Aristotle realized, from human interests and the logic of what is possible.


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